Kanneliya rain forest (Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya) or KDN is a forest complex with high importance, located in southern Sri Lanka. And same times KDN is one of the least known natural jewels in the island and seldom included as an important site of the visit in most Sri Lanka road trips.
Since 2004 the Kanneliya rainforest is declared as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. The KDN complex is the second largest rainforest in Sri Lanka after Sinharaja forest reserve. This forest area has been identified as one of the richest areas with flowering plants in South Asia. Kanneliya is categorized under the low land and evergreen rainforest similar to Sinharaja. Kanneliya is one of the last remaining rainforests in Sri Lanka.
The nearest major city of the rainforest complex is Galle and Matara, both of these cities are tourist hotspots on the island due to the pristine sandy beaches, ancient monuments, patches of forests and many other tourist attractions. Kanneliya is only 35 km from Galle city and Kanneliya is a major reason for the mild weather and very high yearly rainfall of these cities.
Like Sinharaaja KDN forest complex provides shelter to a large number of animal, plants and trees species. The number of Endemic Fauna and flora species within the forest is very high compared to most rainforests in Sri Lanka. Kanneliya is an important patch of forest with very high biodiversity in Southern Asia. Kanneliya is not only an important forest reserve for Sri Lanka but also for the whole South-Asian region. The biosphere consists of a series of parallel mountain ranges and valleys. The elevation ranges from 60 m to 425 m above the sea level. The average annual temperature is hovering around 27.0°C and the temperature variation measured to be around 4°C-5°C.
The forest complex is playing an important role as a catchment area for many rivers and streams that flow through the area. Kanneli, Nanikiththa and Udugama are the smaller streams of Kanneliya, while Homa dola and Gal bandi dola are sourced from Nakiyadeniya and Dediyagala.
Kanneliya is one of the main catchment areas of the Ging Ganga (River). Several important water resources such as Tannikina, Kannaliya Ela, Udugama dola, and Homa dola are located in Kanneliya forest reserve. Anagimala Ella, which is 46 meters tall and Narangas Ella with 70 meters height are the two most picturesque waterfalls in the forest.
The KDN forest complex shows a high degree of floral endemism and as much as 17% of lowland endemic floral species are confined to this forest area. Of 319 woody plants recorded in the area, about 52% is endemic to the country. The main category of the vegetation of KDN complex represents Sri Lanka lowland rain forests. The floral communities dominated by Shorea-Dipterocarpus-Mesua (Sinhalese “Doona-Hora-Na”) are common in the emergent layer of the forest.
Numerous medicinal plants are found in these forests. They include Concinium fenestratum (Sinhalese “Weniwelgata”), Salacia reticulate (“Kothala Himbutu”), and Tinospora cordifolia (“Rasakinda”), Lycopodium Squarrosum (“Kuda hadaya”) and Lycopodium phlegmaria (“Maha hadaya”) are among the rare plants the forest complex harbours.
Some 220 fauna species recorded from KDN and surrounding areas. This includes 41 endemic species. The forest complex is home to 86 species mammals. This includes 4 species of shrews, 5 species of rodents, one carnivore and 2 primates. Sri Lanka is the home for 26 endemic bird species and the majority of them, numbering 20, are to be found in Kanneliya.
Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Red-faced Malkoha, Orange-billed Babbler, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie are several of them. 20% of Sri Lanka’s endemic freshwater fish species inhabit in the waters of Gin River and Nilwala River, which sourced by the springs of Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya. Among the forests of KDN there is a high concentration of snakes, there are 36 species of snakes, 17 of them are endemic species and belong to 6 families. A total of 23 species of Lizards recorded in these rain forests.
The number of border villages of Kanneliya is 78 and the population of these villages estimated to be 10,000. Human activities within the forest reserve is a major threat to the existence of KDN forest complex. Collection of firewood, deforestation for cultivations of crops, using the forest reserve for animal husbandry is identified as the major threats.
Nugegoda, Rajagala and Dediyagala hermitages are situated within the forest. The forest complex was subjected to logging until it was suspended in 1988. Fortunately, the diversity of species and plants remains largely intact. A forest corridor between Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the KDN forest complex is being planned for facilitating animal movement between the two forests. Green-billed Coucal, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Ashy-headed Laughing thrush and White-faced Starling are endangered bird species that occurred very often in KDN. 70% of floral species in KDN is categorized as vulnerable while 45% in the rare plant categories. Kanneliya is a rainforest with very high biodiversity, according to the research conducted by Prof B.M.P kumara; there are 301 different species of trees in the forest.
Kanneliya is located between 60 to 425 meters above sea level and shows a wide range of landscapes. Most part of the forest is made of semi-mountainous areas. This forest accommodates many isolated mountains; Kabbale Mountain is identified as the most prominent mountain range. Other important mountains in the forest are Kondagala Mountain, Katukitulgala Mountain, Kospal Mountain, Uwalwaruwa Mountain and Thiruwana Mountain.
Redlight for Kanneliya
At present, Deforestation is one of the leading environmental issues on the island of Sri Lanka. Despite the many measures and law enforcement, the clearing of land takes place at a rapid pace, removing valuable forest cover on the island. Today, as a percentage only 2.14% of the land surface of Sri Lanka is covered by the rain forests, it is nearly 1415 sq.km of land. Sri Lanka is a country with the highest biodiversity in the world and main contributors of its bio-diversity are the rainforests such as Kanneliya and Sinharaja. Unfortunately, rainforests are the most affected by the deforestation in Sri Lanka.
It was declared as a forest reserve in 1934 and under the purview of the forest conservation department. The forest had been more than 6100 hectares in extent as it was declared as a reserve, but the forest has lost a large part of its territory during the last several decades. Some naturalists are of the opinion, that as much as 800 hectares of forest are removed from its territory. The main reason for the shrinking of the forest is the clearing of lands for crops such as tea. There is no proper action taken to stop the clearing of forest and recover the cleared lands that belong to the forest.